Three Cistercian abbeys called the Three Sisters of Provence were founded in the 12th century: Senanque Abbey, Thoronet Abbey and Silvacane Abbey. Founded in 1148, Senanque was the first of the Three Provençal Sisters.
Drive (or hike) north out of the fabulous stone village of Gordes, in this land of bories. The little D177 road, which the GR6 hiking trail follows, passes along a high, rocky ridge , and part of the beautiful view is down into the deep Senancole valley where the abbey sits (photo above).
Stretching out from the abbey buildings is a valley of lavender fields, which are in full flower and fragrance during the summer, and harvested July-Aug. (In 1999, the lavender was mostly cut by the 19th of July.)
The Cistercian order at the abbey flourished until the 16th century, getting wealthier and wealthier, in contradiction to the Benedictine rule of poverty. In 1544, the Vaudois heretics revolted and their first target was Sénanque. The monks were hanged and many of the buildings were destroyed.
The abbey struggled to recover for the next three centuries, changing hands several times during the historical upheavals of the period, such as the French Revolution. By 1989, the abbey was again an active monastery.
The church is aligned to the north, instead of the east, because of the limited width of the valley in which is sits. Like its sister abbey in Thoronet, the Senanque Abbey church has no main entrance door; the church was only for the monks and lay brothers, not the public.
The dormitory could house about 30 monks. The space for each monk is marked out by colored paving stones on the dormitory floor
The cloister forms an enclosed courtyard in the center of the Abbey, surrounded by the cloister aisles on all four sides. The cloister aisles are the passages between the church, the dormitory and other parts of the Abbey.
The 12th-century Abbey was built with a fountain in the northwest corner of the cloister. It was destroyed during the Wars of Religion, but the vaulting scars remain [Photo-14] and the small stone basin marks the spot.
The Senanque Abbey chapter house opens off the north cloister aisle. This is where the monks met every morning to study the Benedictine Rule, and is the only place in the Abbey where they were allowed to speak. Issues concerning life in the monastery were also discussed here.
Stone benches are integrated into the chapter room for the monks, while the Abbot stands in the center to read the day's chapter from Saint Benedict's rules. In the cloister aisle facing the doorway is a "tarasque", a sculpted devil, looking into the room [Photo-18]. (A Tarasque Legend is described on the Tarascon page.)
- Senanque Abbey Information
- Open: Visits begin: mornings 10h30 (except Jan, Nov-Dec); earlier June-Aug
afternoons: 14h30 - 16h30 [Check their website for details]
- Closed: 5-18 Jan; 20 Nov; 25 Dec.
- Entry: 7 €, guided only.
- Tel: 0490 720 572; Fax: 0811 382 296
- Email: email@example.com
- Web: www.senanque.fr
The GR trails are usually very well marked, but you should have an IGN "Topo" map just in case.
The GR6 continues through the forests towards the north to La Pouraque, then circles around to the west before turning south, along with the GR97, to pass near Fontaine-de-Vaucluse.
• There are many other hiking trails around the abbey, in all directions. These trails form many loops of varying sizes, making regional hiking interesting and easy (not counting the hills).
• There are two different sections of the Mur de la Peste (the plague wall) near the Abbaye de Sénanque. About 4 km to the north of the abbey, where a number of trails branch off, a section of the wall runs up to the northeast, along one of the trails to the Col de Murs. About 3 km due west of the abbey, but requiring a much longer hike around to the north or the south, there's a long section of the ruins of the wall.
Comments contributed by Jan Volkers, 8 Oct 1999
Hiking. Beware....... the GR leading south from the abbey to Gordes is very confusing. All the marks have disappeared. Took me half a day to find out. Got stuck on some ridges on the wrong side of a valley. Didn't have a propre map.
... Since you decided to make notion of the absence of GR-marks, I also can tell you that the GR from Fontaine to Gordes is a "mess" but, with a bit of feel for direction one finds out. On the tops of the hills they chopped some acres of wood so all the marks went along.